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Yakuza 0 Review: Sub-Prime Gangsters

/ Jan 25th, 2017 No Comments

Yakuza 0 review

The Yakuza series has been around for more than a decade, with six main entries (five in America, with the sixth coming next year) in the franchise. Jumping into Yakuza now seems like an insurmountable task. Yakuza 5 was difficult to enjoy because of how dense it was.

Yakuza 0 serves to remedy that issue. As a prequel to the main series, Yakuza 0 is an accessible starting point for people to try out the franchise’s special brand of combat, characters and storytelling. If you ever wanted to give the series a chance, Yakuza 0 is the perfect opportunity.

Sign of the Times

It is 1988 in Japan. The country is experiencing an economic boom and everyone is spreading money around. Kamurocho, Tokyo’s red light district, is turning huge real estate profits.

Kazuma Kiryu is a low-level yakuza of the Dojima family. He starts the game off shaking down some degenerate deadbeat who racked up too much debt to one of Kamurocho’s bookies.

While Kiryu was just doing his job by roughing the deadbeat, the guy is later found dead in a derelict lot. The murder isn’t important because of who was killed, but rather where he was killed. Real estate is big business for everyone in Kamurocho, especially the Dojima family. The murder brings too much attention to the empty lot, which is of great importance in a big real estate deal the family is trying to put together. Kiryu is naturally in hot water for his involvement with the shake down, and he needs to find some way to prove he didn’t commit the murder.

Yakuza 0 review

Kiryu’s story sees him navigating life as both a yakuza and a civilian.

In Sotenbori, the economic upswing is feeding a thriving nightlife economy. Lavish cabarets like The Grand are the main attraction where men come to spend their time and money. The cabaret is king in Sotenbori, and the customer is king at The Grand. For treating its customers like kings, the manager of The Grand, Goro Majima, is called the Lord of the Night.

There is more to Majima than simply being a gracious host. He is dying to get back into the life after a mistake cost him his status as a yakuza. This burning desire drives him to be successful within Sotenbori’s cabaret economy. His overeagerness to get back into the Tojo Clan will cost him, but what price is Majima willing to pay to be about that life again?

Yakuza 0 review

Majima is all about giving the player and customer a show.

Yakuza 0’s story switches between Kiryu and Majima every few chapters. At first, it seems like it is telling two separate stories, but the deeper you go, the more complex it becomes. The core mysteries of each story play off each other in important ways, and it isn’t until the last moment that you understand how they are related. It keeps you in suspense and blows you away when you find out the truth.

Besides a compelling narrative, the game is full of likable characters, with Kiryu and Majima at the heart of it. The story also shines in terms of funny, unique substories. The different characters you run into in Kamurocho and Sotenbori are delightful. Whether it is helping a kid get back his copy of a brand new game or teaching a dominatrix how to be a better at her job, the substories are always worth investigating.

Speak with Our Fists

The bright lights of Kamurocho and Sotenbori are home to many fabulous sights, as well as many tough customers bent on making Majima and Kiryu’s lives tougher. It is lucky that both men are no slouches when it comes to fighting.

Each gains the ability to use three different fighting styles throughout the course of the game. Whether it is fighting with whatever item you can find or fighting with the power of breaking, Majima and Kiryu’s different fighting styles add variety to rumbles.

Every fighting style has its advantages and weaknesses, but the cool thing is that no fighting style is inherently stronger than the others. Since you can switch styles on the fly, some are more suited for a specific situation. For tougher boss fights, a more evasive style could be the trick to victory, while bigger endurance brawls are easier when you use crowd-controlling moves. Experimenting during fights is both helpful and satisfying when you find the right way to come out ahead.

Yakuza 0 review

Combat is wildly fun in Yakuza 0.

Combat harkens back to older brawlers. It isn’t as fluid as most modern action games, but it is the variety of fighting styles that helps make up for some of its deliberately aged gameplay. There is something very comforting about beating people up and seeing Yen falling out of their suits. The goofy, lighthearted animations contrasted against the game’s gore and serious gangster story make for a unique style of combat. It is what makes the combat fun. Plus, what is better than finishing a fight by kicking someone into their side to send them flying while money falls out from them.

Fighting isn’t the only draw of Yakuza 0, there are plenty of side quests and activities to enjoy in both Kamurocho and Sotenbori. To that end, both stories have their own massive, substantial subplots in the form of business mini-games. Kiryu’s subplot involves buying up real estate in Kamurocho and managing the properties to reap rewards. After buying up properties, Kiryu needs to assign managers and security to ensure the profits can be collected.

Majima’s subplot sees him taking time off from The Grand to manage a cabaret club, an emerging trend in Sotenbori. To ensure profitability, Majima needs to manage his hostesses and invest in improving them by giving makeovers and private lessons. Leveling up hostesses and focusing on specific traits will serve you well. The only way to profit is to run your club, which involves assigning proper hostesses to guests, resolving issues and picking up the check.

Yakuza 0 review

Managing Majima’s cabaret club is more complicated than it may seem.

Both subplots have a larger goal than simple profits, although that is the main reward for spending time completing these tasks. The main goal of either subplot is to increase your popularity or control to catch the attention of the consortiums running a monopoly on the cabaret clubs and real estate. Players will also bump off individual members of the Five Billionaires or the Five Stars to assert total domination in either district during these subplots.

The profit you’ll gain from investing time into either mini-game is important because any of the upgrades to Kiryu’s or Majima’s fighting styles requires plenty of Yen. The early upgrades are relatively cheap, but to obtain master level moves, you’ll be spending millions of Yen. It is easy to spend a billion Yen upgrading your moves, so it is wise to get your real estate and cabaret club skills up.


Yakuza 0 is a fantastic jumping on point for the series. If you’ve felt intimidated by the seemingly impenetrable backstory of other Yakuza games, this is the game to get you into this fun, stylish and goofy series.

The gangster story is complex and wildly engrossing. It perfectly serves as a way to introduce you to two mainstays of the series. It’ll be the substories and business subplots that’ll have you burying hours into the game. Additionally, the combat is a delightful throwback to old school brawlers with plenty of charm.

Yakuza 0 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a code for the game provided by the publisher.


Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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Gaming Illustrated RATING



The old school feel of combat combined with a complex upgrade system makes for a great gameplay experience. Plus the business mini-games are wildly addictive.


Graphically the game lacks a bit, while the cut scenes and animations are great, the models are a bit rough and the sandbox environment lacks some of the impact of other contemporary games.


Yakuza 0’s soundtrack is great and the Japanese voice acting is incredible.


The origin stories of Kiryu and Majima are totally enthralling and the late 80s economic boom is a great framing device.

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